Milwaukee Metalfest 2002
U.S. Cellular Arena, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

By Thrash-head

There's no denying that the American metal scene has a love-hate relationship with the Metalfests put on by Jack Koshick and company. Although there's always good bands on the bill, and an overwhelming feeling of unity within the scene when you are present, there's also an overwhelming feeling of quantity-over-quality-scheduling and money bullshit.

Case in point: despite being in the same location as last year's event, this year's had to be moved to the other side of the venue to the U.S. Cellular Arena, and ONLY the U.S. Cellular Arena. Despite the significantly less space, there was still four stages, two of them being in the main arena side-by-side, and the other two being in... you won't believe this... the concession area! Good news is that there were only two bands playing at any given time. While I approve of the idea, because it means you don't have to choose between up to four amazing bands and therefore miss three of them, we simply must find a better area of the venue for the Relapse and Nightfall stages that were in the concession area. It was just too small of a space and the Nightfall stage in particular had a speaker column blocking the view of about a third of the stage. My suggestion is to keep the general idea for next year, but find a bigger area for the two smaller stages to co-exist without obstructed views or unbearable reverb.

One gripe I had in particular, was that there seemed to be a lack of merchandise booths compared to years previous. Sure, mainstays like the Century Media/Nuclear Blast, Dark Symphonies, Relapse, and Rare Vinyl & T-shirts booth were there, as well as a few notable additions from recent years (Blackened Moon, Earwax, and that FANTASTIC thrash booth from Puerto Rico), but there was no booth from Candlelight Records or Necropolis, a late arrival of the Earache booth, and none from Unique Leader.

As a point of interest, I don't agree with there being a nazi booth at the fest in the form of Unholy Records, who sold nazi black metal almost exclusively and white-supremicist magazines. I agree with freedom of speech and right to an opinion, but as I tell all the fringe Religious Fanatics, Racist, Fascist, and neo-Anarchists that I meet..KEEP YOUR VIEWS TO YOURSELF!!!

Regardless, I picked up a vast array of new CDs (Rain, Grief of Emerald, etc.) and even some oldies-but goodies (Defiance, the first Jag Panzer, etc.).One thing I particularly enjoyed is that it seemed as though the majority of the bands had really good sound, even if many of the early acts suffered from poor mixing. Of course we had the cancellations, but definitely not as many and even for a few legitimate reasons. For example, Angel Dust was a no-show due to basically breaking up (according to a recent press release anyway, the excuse at Metalfest was that they were being held up in Europe for Visa problems), although there is still a mystery surrounding the no-shows by both Exhumed and Impaled. (I heard Impaled had the plug pulled on their set due to time problems--Dr. Mality)

Several performances I feel are definitely worth mentioning:

EXODUS: the quintessential thrash metal band returned with none other than Steve Souza back behind the mic following the tragic death of Paul Baloff, whom they said they are forever dedicating ³Bonded By Blood to in all future performances. The band was in top form tonight, and they even performed "Only Death Decides" from the awesome "Impact is Imminent" album, although nothing from the "Force of Habit" release.

The two new songs they debuted were rather good, but the first of the two was easily the better, displaying true Exodus form, while the second may have sounded kind of appropriate on say, "Force of Habit" and that would be generous. All in all, the band I REALLY wanted to see was in top form and did not disappoint.

VIOLENCE: if any one band could be called the bastard of the bay area thrash scene, it was Violence, who easily served up a frenzy that made them worthy of their moniker. They were also easily the band that had the most fun being there. Their set was incredibly short, but extremely heavy, aggressive, and featured none other than Machine Head bassist Adam Duce playing bass as a temporary substitute for Dean Dell, who was on his honeymoon. They ruled far more than I expected them to!

DRAGONLORD: the symphonic black metal band fronted by Testament guitarist Eric Peterson is at least a fairly appropriate rendition of the Norwegian variety, only done by an American supergroup. I especially like the fact that though Jon Allen doesn't show it too much in Sadus, he really is quite the kick-ass drummer, just a notch down from Nick Barker if that. The best part though, was that as the group was leaving, everyone started chanting "Chuck! Chuck!" This was because the master of ceremonies was none other than Testament's Chuck Billy.

He made his first public appearance since his bout with cancer. He came out, intro'd the song "Into the Pit" and the he and the group broke into an awesome version of the Testament classic. It was a tear-jerker moment to know that we lost Chuck Schuldiner to cancer only eight months previous, and we have Chuck Billy in the scene, who beat the cancer and is now poised to make his return. Kudos!

HATE ETERNAL: this is a band that has virtually revolutionized the death metal scene. Since the release of their debut two years back, the supergroup comprised of Morbid Angel second guitarist Erik Rutan, MA-touring bassist Jared Anderson, and Divine Empire/Nile/yadda-yadda drummer Derek Roddy have led a scene comprised of the likes of Krisiun, Decapitated, Behemoth, to bring forth a new type of death metal that is slightly faster, more intricate, and above all else, more SINISTER, in terms of the overall songwriting, and vocal delivery, which is more evil and angry than gutteral. They were in top form on Friday night, playing cuts off of the debut and upcoming new release. Excellent beyond Excellence!!!

HAVOCHATE: you'll hear a lot from these new thrash upstarts! Blending the likes of Halford's newer material with possibly older Metal Church and an all-out, blistering sound, they should go far in the underground scene. I dunno if they will, but they should!

BRICK BATH: a complete Pantera rip-off, but still very entertaining, extremely heavy, and not boring in the least. With a little originality, they could be huge!

ARCH ENEMY: upon hearing (in opinion) from Peter Wichers, guitarist of Soilwork, that new vocalist Angela Gossow is a detriment to the band, I was purely surprised when she ripped us to shreds on Friday night. She fits the band way more than Johan Liiva ever could have, and damn if she doesn't fit those tight pants rather nicely as well (I'm a sucker for metal all should know that by now!!!)

INCANTATION: the death metal mainstays proved they still have just as much in them as they ever did. The music was blisteringly heavy and brutal low-end riffage and enough doomy sections to make everyone in the audience just sit back, and go "coooo-o-o-o-o-o-o-l!!!" They played an amazing set!

ORIGIN: having seen them on several occasions, they never fail to amaze me. They are the heirs to the technical death metal throne if Cryptopsy ever throws in the towel!

To get down to it, though in regards to the bitching about the fest, some suggest we should do an outdoor fest like in Europe because those do fairly well over there, which they do, but we can't do them for a variety of reasons. Despite how well they do in Europe, they won't do that well over here because although there is a strong underground metal scene, there is not enough of one to fill a field with 20,000-100,000 people all from one region, as most people are unwilling to drive cross-country for a concert, and therefore that presents a huge financial loss that would dig a hole for the organizers so deep we might not have any more fests after that failed attempt.

As far as other North American fests go, most of them are only day-long, one-stage concerts with about 20 bands if you're lucky, and those rarely go even remotely as planned (believe me, I've tried!). Other multi-day fests are great attempts to offer something better, but having talked to many people who've experienced both, many reluctantly agree that Milwaukee and New Jersey are far better for the variety of bands, merchandise booths, and overall experience.

Many also complain about money matters with the Koshick fests. God knows how much merchandisers are charged to set up shop, but bands now get charged $1500 unless they obtain a respectable-enough label that Koshick is willing to pay to get them over here. That is what much of that money goes towards, as well as food for the bands, concession services at the venue, stage rental, PA rental and service, venue rental; which is is not cheap!

Some suggest that Koshick should just go on ticket sales alone, but that is just stupid, because many people in the fest are in bands or labels or press and therefore get in for free. Take 150 bands, and we'll say average is about four members of each band. That's 600 people in for free right there, not to mention say 100 press of all forms of media, about 125 merchandise employees, maybe 30 security, about 15 people working sound, lights and backline, and if any of the bigger bands have an entourage, that's about five or six people per band, and we'll take a rough guess at five bands had that.

That's getting up there towards 1,000 people in for free right there, and many people don't pay for tickets through Ticketmaster, they get them from other bands, whether for free, for cheap, or for full price to try and help the pay-to-play bands make up some of the loss (the unsigned bands get tickets to sell for paying their $1500...once again a novel idea that barely makes a dent in it's intended goal). Think about those figures, and try to remember that being VERY generous, there were maybe 6,000 to 10,000 people there, total. Koshick's not trying to profit, he's trying to break even, maybe have a little left over for next year's to lower the risk of him going under.

Bottom line is this, folks!!! No matter how much we bitch about the bullshit surrounding the Koshick-organized metalfests, it still remains that believe it or not, THIS IS THE BEST WE CAN DO, FOLKS!!! I will say it loudly and proudly that I love Milwaukee Metalfest and I still plan on going every year. I don't really care about the bands that are playing, and if there is a really kick-ass band on the bill, to be honest I consider it a bonus. I go for the experience! The thrill of being surrounded by metal for two-days, a feeling of unity in the scene, and getting to buy all sorts of rare, imported, out-of-print, or just plain kick-ass metal CDs, Videos, DVDs, clothing, accessories, and other neat stuff.

The only way I can describe it to you is that these are the two days out of the year where I cast all worries aside, live my life as I see fit, and generally feel quite content, comfortable, and happy being who I am. I feel like I'm in one large family devoted to a cause...the cause of keeping metal alive and making sure it always remains the best music there is! When I'm at Metalfest, I don't think about the job I go back to, the complete fucking morons I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, or the stress that otherwise surrounds my life. I just grab a large wad of Andrew Jackson's and go shopping at a killer metal convention.

I don't know what I would do without Milwaukee Metalfest, and I sure as hell hope I never have to find out!

Thanks to Debbie Sellnow, who once again helped us out, and this time under rather stressful conditions for her as well. She deserves special recognition for her public relations efforts and her help with getting us this story. Thank you!

Dr. Mality speaks...

Despite the horrific change in the venue, I probably enjoyed this year's Metalfest more than any other, not because the bands were better but because I got to hang out with so many just plain cool folks. Meeting Jack Frost of Seven Witches and raving about the Quill LP with him was unforgettable. Also got to clown around with "Bloodbath" and the other guys from Impaled, as well as The Chasm's Daniel Corchado. It was also extremely cool seeing Rockford's Submission on stage. Thanks also to Stephanie and her boyfriend from Infernal Legion and the folks from Perfect Malice webzine...

Some bands I enjoyed:

DECAPITATED: This was death metal supremacy at its most efficient and brutal. These Polish kids were awesome and displayed both anger and technicality beyond their years.

PATH: Killer metal band from Kenosha, WI who are obviously putting a little more thought into their bludgeoning than many other bands.

BEYOND THE EMBRACE: I was totally shocked and blown away by this melodic death metal machine from Massachusetts. Screaming guitar leads and endless savagery typified these guys...killer!

HIGH ON FIRE: The best set of the weekend. Drunken, rampaging riffmonster metal that crushes the living shit out of everything. Buy their records and see their shows no matter what!

I pretty much agree with everything Thrash said so I hope to see you humanoids up in Beertown next year!